Editorial: Local schools get burden when society won't deal with gun problem
The specter of a callous gunman has figured much over the past week and half in the minds of people responsible for keeping kids safe at school. And both the need for and the challenge of countering him were shown as terribly real Monday in Des Plaines, where services were held for Chicago Police Officer Samuel Jimenez, one of four people who died during a shooting rampage in Mercy Hospital & Medical Center in Chicago a week before.
There are no new arguments to be made in the wake of the Mercy Hospital nightmare, and sadly, little hope of movement toward a constructive response. Hardline gun-rights advocates will hasten again to their corner insisting that the best answer to such crises is to introduce more guns into the equation, inserting "good guys" between the "bad guys" and their intended victims. Advocates of increased gun regulation will reply -- as doctors from Mercy were quick to do in responding to the NRA's #StayInYourLane Twitter campaign -- that we must do more to keep guns out of the hands of people who would turn them on innocent victims in public places.
While that stalemate searches for political direction, two developments -- one statewide, one local -- have emerged that deserve reflection.
On Nov. 17, with anti-gun activists protesting outside their meeting at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Chicago, the Illinois Association of School Boards voted against allowing districts to train and arm teachers. To most urban and suburban districts -- and, for that matter, to us -- the many drawbacks easily discredit the notion of arming teachers. But the weight of its support -- it failed by just 24 votes among the 382 districts -- shows that the case is far from closed. For many small-town and rural school systems lacking resources for on-site police and located far from trained first-responders, the prospects of thwarting or dealing with a shooter are a grim concern, and their pleas for help strengthening their security deserve consideration.
Which brings us to the proposal forwarded for study by Palatine Elementary District 15 that would employ armed retired ex-cops in elementary schools to function as both protectors and front-office aides. The vision of an armed presence in a grade school is something repugnant to contemplate, but in an atmosphere woefully void of foolproof solutions, it cannot be dismissed out of hand. We're inclined to think that crisis training combined with strictly enforced security protocols and impregnable access systems are preferable to the potential drawbacks and unpredictable circumstances involving an on-site armed guard, but we appreciate the district's creative thinking and agree the measure deserves a thorough conversation.
A hospital is not a school is not a synagogue is not a concert venue. So, a universal security strategy is profoundly elusive in a society that won't act on the weapons side of the gun violence equation. Authorities at Mercy Hospital praised the safety plan and drills they had put in place for saving lives during last week's tragedy. Schools throughout the suburbs have initiated similar training and have installed or are installing elaborate security systems to deny access or opportunity to a potential shooter. Representatives to the IASB conference called for more help at the state and federal level, especially for those schools with distinct resource problems. Such, alas, are the options we are left to work with, and whatever the value of the safety procedures at Mercy, the horrendous cost of that event serves only to emphasize how much more we have still to do.